Palette of Perspectives: Wrapping Up Art and Culture, The Africa Institute Prepares to Unearth Ecological Histories in Country-Focused Season Finale in 2024
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Palette of Perspectives: Wrapping Up Art and Culture, The Africa Institute Prepares to Unearth Ecological Histories in Country-Focused Season Finale in 2024

Dr. Salah M. Hassan, Director of The Africa Institute (Global Studies University), formally inaugurates the 'Colorful Threads' Symposium in Sharjah on December 14, 2023.

ArtDayME: In the culmination of scholarly depth and cultural vibrancy, The Africa Institute recently concluded its third symposium as part of its four-part series dedicated to Africa’s Indian Ocean rim, titled "Colorful Threads: The Interwoven Worlds of Art and Culture in the Western Indian Ocean." The symposium, held from December 14 to 16 in Sharjah, UAE, delved into diverse facets, from feminism and cinema to artmaking, echoing the dynamic complexities of the Indian Ocean rim.

This four-part series falls under the theme, "Thinking the Archipelago: Africa’s Indian Ocean Islands," which is part of The Africa Institute’s year-round initiative, “Country-Focused Season,” dedicated to developing and supporting original scholarship and programming that expands understanding of African and African diaspora studies among the academic community and the broader public.

Following successful seasons focused on Ethiopia and Ghana in 2019 and 2022, respectively, the Indian Ocean region was chosen for its role as the ‘cradle of globalization’ and ‘center stage’ in the contemporary multipolar world. 

"Bounded by the continents of Africa, Asia, and Australia, the Indian Ocean has been a critical route for centuries bearing witness to remarkable circularities. With this season’s focus, diverse scholars highlight the multitudinous forces shaping Africa’s Indian Ocean islands, enabling us to interpret Africa’s history, understand its present, and imagine its future,” said Dr. Salah M Hassan, Director, The Africa Institute, Sharjah.

Organized by The Africa Institute in collaboration with leading scholars Jeremy Prestholdt, Professor of History at the University of California, San Diego; Rogaia Mustafa Abusharaf, Professor of Anthropology at Georgetown University in Qatar; and Uday Chandra, Assistant Professor of Government at Georgetown University in Qatar, this symposium is co-organized by Prita Meier, Associate Professor of Art History at New York University, and Laura Fair, Professor of African History in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University.

As the Country-Focused Season progresses, the symposium, "Colorful Threads,” celebrated the Islands of the Western Indian Ocean, emphasizing their historical, socio-cultural, and economic significance. Scholars, writers, artists, and activists engaged in four-panel discussions, covering Women, Feminism, and the Indian Ocean; Material Connections and Rupture; Cinema and Placemaking; and Representations and Imaginaries. 

"These themes deserve consideration not only in comparison with other world regions but also because, unlike its Atlantic and Mediterranean counterparts, the Indian Ocean’s unique nexus of trans-local relationships has never received the attention it merits,” said co-convenor Professor Prestholdt.

Co-organizer Prita Meier, Associate Professor of Art History at New York University, shared in her opening address, "This symposium brings scholars together from diverse fields and disciplines to reposition the Indian Ocean world at the center of global art history. Their contributions address pressing issues regarding the cultural dimensions of globalization by foregrounding the significance of oceans and maritime environments in shaping our world. Individual papers thematize such diverse topics as the oceanic mobility of photography, the transcultural reach of island architecture, and cinematic representations of archipelagic life worlds.”

Moreover, the symposium provided a poignant segue into the final act of the series, titled "Intertwined Ecologies and Interconnected Histories: The Indian Ocean Rim," scheduled for Mauritius in 2024. Co-convenor Professor Jeremy Prestholdt noted the unique nexus of trans-local relationships in the Indian Ocean, historically overlooked in comparison to its Atlantic and Mediterranean counterparts. "The Indian Ocean, recognized as the fastest-warming ocean globally, demands a shift in our conception of environmental justice. The symposium seeks to create a new dialogue between sub-spaces and historical regions along the Indian Ocean rim, focusing particularly on Indian Ocean Africa."

Looking Ahead: The Final Act of the Country-Focused Season 

As the curtain falls on "Colorful Threads," The Africa Institute remains at the forefront of expanding understanding in African and African diaspora studies. The symposium "Intertwined Ecologies and Interconnected Histories: The Indian Ocean Rim" promises to be the final act of a season that will host environmental historians, anthropologists, climate scientists, and marine biologists. They will 

weave the "local" and "global" as interconnected scales for a just shared environmental future. The series will continue to bridge gaps, foster dialogue, and shape a narrative that emphasizes the environmental challenges and cultural richness of the Indian Ocean Rim.

This symposium series is not confined to academic circles but extends an open invitation to the public, with all conference proceedings accessible on The Africa Institute’s YouTube channel.

In addition to the Country-Focused Season, The Africa Institute is making significant contributions to Indian Ocean studies through its collaboration with Duke University Press in publishing “Monsoon: Journal of the Indian Ocean Rim.” Edited by Rogaia Mustafa Abusharaf and Jeremy Prestholdt, this interdisciplinary journal addresses a gap in existing literature, exploring the cultural, historical, and political dynamics of Indian Ocean coastal societies. Published biannually, Monsoon aims to enhance the visibility of Indian Ocean studies, fostering conversations about the societies, arts, and cultures of the basin. It represents a critical resource in oceanic and global studies, offering original research and engaging a broad audience.

Established in 2018, The Africa Institute (Global Studies University, GSU) in Sharjah, UAE, is an interdisciplinary academic research institute dedicated to the study, research, and documentation of Africa and the African diaspora. Positioned in the historical nexus of African-Arab cultural exchange, it expands understanding of African and African diaspora studies globally. The Africa Institute’s curriculum of postgraduate studies is designed to train the next generation of critical thinkers in African and African diaspora studies through its program of international symposia and conferences, visual art exhibitions and artist commissions, film and performance series, and community classes and outreach events. The Institute is expanding public understanding of Arab and African exchange within not only the scholarly community but also the local Sharjah community, the region, and around the globe. Stay updated by visiting their official website:  to learn more about the country-focused season and other programs.